January 9th

 

One of the surprises in Jordan was that we had an extra person on our bus, a tourist service police officer. Mo said that they have been trying to do this but that the buses they are on are totally random. So some tourists get them and some don’t.

The entrance to Petra was right outside our hotel. Petra itself is truly breathtaking and amazing. Its history is incredible as well.

The Nabuteans who created this site were, according to Mo, truly ahead of their time in many areas. In their engineering they created from top to bottom.In other ways they appear to have been open to diversity of different faith traditions and religions. They also appear to have treated women as equals. Nobody really knows what happened to them.

The entrance into the section where the library is takes your breath away. There are barkers everywhere trying to get your attention to buy their stuff. Many of them are families who used to actually live in these caves. The government has provided homes for them but many come back every day to sell things, provide camel rides, donkey rides and even a chariot ride back to the main entrance for tired travelers.

Several of us managed to hike to the monastery-over 900 steps…on my fitbit it said that entire walk was 25,000 steps!

Along the way we got to see how they make sand art, pretty amazing. The one concerning piece for me and Mo warned us to not to buy from them, are the children who are here trying to sell things instead of being where they should be, in school. Also I am not sure how well they actually treat the animals that we saw.

The view from the monastery was truly amazing. I know I am saying that a lot in this missive but it was absolutely awe inspiring. If I remember correctly in the distance you can see where they believe Aaron’s tomb is.

 

January 10th

Our first stop was at Al Shakur built in the 1100’s-it was a crusaders castle. Next we headed to Madaba and saw St. George’s church which is known for its mosaics. We saw an old map that showed us the pilgrim’s path of travel. Then we traveled the Desert Highway to Mt. Nebo where it is believed that Moses traveled to and saw the Promised Land but was not allowed to enter it.

Unfortunately it was a bit misty the daywe were there and so we couldn’t see as far as you can when it is clear. Still a beautiful view-normally you see as far as Jericho or Jerusalem. We stopped at a place that made mosaic art. I love the tree of life design and find it fascinating how important it is in both Islamic and Christian art.

At the end of the day we came to Amman which is a very large city and very modern appearing, especially compared to the rest of the country. Most places you could truly feel what life had been like for those who lived here centuries ago.

 

 

 

January 11th

 

We had a lazy morning since we’ll be heading home tonight/tomorrow morning-flights in the 2AM range. Then we headed to Jerash where we saw more Roman ruins. There we saw Apollo’s temple and Aretemis’ temple. Hers was actually larger than Apollo’s. It was interesting to look up from the site and see the town built near the edges.

Mo took us to a really good restaurant that evening. The meal was truly one of the best we ate. Although other than the food we ate at the hotels, which are what you expect it to be, everywhere we ate was pretty good. As a vegetarian I never found myself to be hungry. Mo left us there and Akhmed took us to the airport. We picked up someone who was helped us through customs although that was a little awkward since he wasn’t where we expected him to be and our driver’s English wasn’t good enough to explain what was happening but in the end we all made it to the airport and through customs. Indeed I went through 6 different security checkpoints in all before arriving home.

 

Final Reflections

 

As I reflect on the journey that we took through Jerusalem especially, I am thankful. I am thankful for the members of our group-they are all amazing awesome people who I really enjoyed getting to know. I am thankful for Morgie and Yousef and Yahzen who were funny and inspiring and knowledgeable. I think that there is something important about traveling to places like Israel and seeing for yourself the “truth” of an area, or as much truth as you can find in the days we were there. Walking through the gate to Ramallah, being stopped by the IDF at a checkpoint, boarded, the tension on Yousef’s face and throughout his body, bring home like nothing else can what people are experiencing day in and day out. The rooftop containers for water stand checkered along the countryside point out in mute ways the Palestinian situation in ways that we often don’t realize or see. The hope that we saw in many, on both sides, of finding a way to not just co-exist but to make things better that often stands side by side with the despair of an unknown future. If I could say to anyone who was thinking about going and undecided, I’d tell you to go. There’s nothing like the actual experience to truly learn so much about people, a culture, and history that is not complete without each other’s stories: Christian, Jewish and Muslim, together make a mosaic that could speak to much of the divisiveness in our own nation today.

 

 

 

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Today we left Tel Aviv and arrived in Eilat where we crossed the border into Jordan. In Tel Aviv several of us had our suitcases searched. Poor Jean had hers totally apart, she had placed all her purchases on the bottom but we all made it through okay. The flight was fairly short and the crossing uneventful. Geography change though is huge. We saw the Red Sea from the sky but because of the timing had to hit the road to get to Wadi Rum. We sat under a Bedouin tent and ate and then jumped in the back of 4X4 keeps to explore the natural beauty of this area. It was breathtaking. One section had an echo chamber but the sand stone mountains and their formations are worth checking out. On the way we kept seeing camels and met a man who had several camels, four of who were about to give birth. Then we hit the road for the two-hour drive to Petra, checked in our hotel and had dinner.

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Today was bittersweet. It was a great day but also hard because we had to say goodbye to our guides and our driver here in Israel when we arrived in Tel Aviv. Tomorrow we head to Jordan. They were truly outstanding.

We began our day by checking out of the hotel in Tiberias and headed to Nazareth where we met with a local pastor, Yohama Katanacho from Nazareth Evangelical College. He told us a bit of his story. He grew up on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem and from what he heard as a young child he believed that God was only the God of Israel. As a teenager he saw God as myth and became an atheist. He saw that religion was used to abuse Palestinians. But one night he had an experience that he can only attribute to God and began his journey into faith. He went to a Christian Church and heard for the first time that God loves the Palestinians. He told us that love is a decision and that we have to exercise it more in war but that love is not an excuse to abandon justice.

We next went to the Basilica of the Anunciation. Outside the church as well as inside are depictions of Mary and the baby Jesus which were sent from all over the world. Inside are two levels, a lower one and the upper level which is larger and appears to be more of a worship space. The doors have art work depicting lot’s of Biblical stories, both Hebrew scripture and the New Testament as well.

We wandered the streets of Nazareth which in Jesus day would have been a tiny little town. We went into what was once a synagogue and conjecture is that it might have been the Synagogue that Jesus knew and grew up in and preached in. We also entered a mosque there and saw the play where Muslims come five times a day to pray.

We stopped in Tzippori a site of particular importance to the Jewish people. Here is where the Talmud was codified. Also we could see ruins of an ancient synagogue and other buildings. It was fascinating. It was also the location of tile work. By what they found there they believe that it may have been a school and the tile work we saw was amazing.

On our way to Jaffa we passed by Kafur Qasem where in 1956 there was a massacre of Palestinian residents returning home from work. It seems that the Israeli’s had changed the curfew while they were at work and they were not aware of it when they came home-Morgie asked when will Israel be able to say that things like this, these bad things, happen and take responsibility. Indeed we saw the separation wall or the border wall again on our way on highway 6 into Jaffa and Tel Aviv. We saw St Peter’s church in Jaffa and the spires of 3 mosques, we heard the history of the city and finally made it to our hotel where we did say our final goodbye to Morgie, Yousef, and Yahzin.

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We woke up to rain this morning which meant that we unfortunately couldn’t hike the trail to the Banias waterfall but we did see the location and the openings there. Afterward we went to a winery and had a tour and tasting of their wines. Across the street we got to taste olive oil and look at the ways they use olive oil in women’s cosmetics. The place with the olive oil was a cooperative, similar to a kibbutz. We had a good lunch and then wandered down to Capernaum, the town that Jesus was believed to have lived and preached. We couldn’t sail across the Sea of Galilea but did see the sign to Ginosaur. Because of the changes we got done early and so we have a couple of hours before we gather to talk about Jordan and the trip there. Tomorrow we leave Tiberius and head to Nazareth and Tel Aviv.

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Today was kind of a sad day, we said good-bye to Jerusalem as we headed towards Jericho and the Sea of Galilea. We started the day by catching up on a site we had missed-the Mount of Olives. The view from there of Jerusalem is just breathtaking. You can see the Dome of the Rock and the Church of Holy Sepulchre and the wall around the Old City. Below us was an Israeli cemetery.

We then began to travel north towards Tel Jericho. The mountains are amazing and you can see the strata in the rocks. You see Bedouin communities who have been displaced from their original

homes and settlements as well as Palestinian communities and even a couple of refugee camps along the way. We stopped at the Mount of Temptation where we were welcomed with dates which were really tasty. They were medjool dates. I wish I could fit some into my suitcase but there’s limited space but they are indeed good. Today is Jean O’s 81st birthday and she celebrated by riding the camel Jacky. Back on the bus we started to descend until we were below sea level. The striations in the rock were even more noticeable. We went to Tel Jericho and looked at the various wall pieces and supports that they have unearthed there. We also saw the where the public baths would have been.

We also saw the ruins of Hisham’s Palace which was destroyed by an earthquake. It must have been amazing when it was whole. We saw the entrance way, and a floor that they unearthed that was tiled but it covered right now due to the need for money to restore and protect it.

We also went to Beit Sh’ean which was a Roman city-a pretty large city once filled with a thriving population.

We went to one possible location of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan river. While we were there we got to watch as several pilgrims were immersed in the chilly waters.

We next traveled to the Sea of Galilee where were are spending tonight and tomorrow night.

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Today we went started the day by driving into one of the Jewish settlements in and around Bethlehem. There we met with Bob who believes strongly that by doing the settlements that the Israeli’s are helping to bring about peace.

Then we traveled into Bethlehem. Again we were behind the security wall. There we entered the Church of the Nativity and saw the place St. Helena believed was the birthplace of Jesus. They are restoring the tiles along the tops of the walls and from what we could see they are going to be truly amazing. We also saw the original tiles underneath the church. Next door is a Franciscan church. We got to hear the organ while we were there. We also saw a huge marble baptismal font which had a pipe leading out the back for drainage.

We walked through the streets to the Diyar Consortium where we got to hear Dr. Mitzi Raheb speak. Through the use of maps he showed us how slowly but surelyIsrael is hemming in Bethlehem with settlements and more walls. There are 19 settlements to the north and south west-there is located the most fruitful land. They had three near the Dead Sea where they mine minerals which is against the Geneva Convention. When all is said and done he says there will be only 8 square miles left. He also told us that Christian’s are indigenous to Palesitine, they have been a presence since 2000 years ago. That they have had almost continuous occupation even as the many nations came and conquered and left and others took over. He told us that the Holy land needs bridges not walls. He believes that there is hope and Diyar Consortiums purpose is to try to bring it to the next generations. They’re goal is to create room for new hope.

After we left there we went to a refugee camp where we saw a list of names of children killed a

nd saw a memorial to one young boy who was killed by a sniper there on the street where we stood. We walked down to meet with the EAPPI representative Paul from Great Britain. The WCC (World Council of Churches) was asked to design something by the churches in Jerusalem which would provide a witness to the actions happening in the occupied territories. We saw a beautiful sunset while we were behind the wall.

Then we had to go through the checkpoint to leave Bethlehem.

We ended the day by listening to an Israeli and a Palestinian who unfortunately have lost loved ones in this violence. They talked about how both sides are paying the price for the lack of peace. They do some really amazing work. They brought many of us to tears. Check out their work at: http://www.theparentscircle.com/

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Today was chilly and rainy so when we got to Yad Vasham the Holocaust Museum we couldn’t see much of the scenery but we collected our headphones and had time to wander through the museum.  There one of the things that struck me was the reality of life when those who survived the camps made their ways home and how their neighbors often responded with hate and antisemitism.  Some were beaten and others even killed, especially in Poland.  You can see how they would yearn for a place, a land, a state of their own.  Seeds had been planted earlier by Hertzl who founded Zionism.  In 1897 he had convened the first Jewish National Congress and there Zionism was born.
What struck me the most though at the Museum was the memorial to the children.  You walk into a darkened cave and while music p

lays a voice reads the names of children, where they were from and the age at their death.  You walk through lit candles that seem to go on forever.
We met with a Holocaust survivor after we finished with the museum and heard her story.  She was a child during the war and ended up in Bergen Belsen Camp.  She doesn’t remember her parents much and has no living relatives other than her husband and children.  She was adopted by an American family after the war before eventually moving to Israel.  We ate lunch at the museum.

We headed to Ein Karem where John the Bapitst is thought to have been born.  This valley is also the place of much violence.  At one time
it had been a Palestinian village, now only one Muslim and one Christian family remain there.  There was a massacre in a valley next to this one and all the families from Ein Karem fled in fear.  It had been a fertile land of farms.

The Palestinians who had lived here lost all their land after that massacre.

The church we visited was from the Byzantine Era but is today a Franciscan church.  We saw the place where John the Baptist was born, according to tradition.

Later we med with Gilad Eisin a retired Colonol from the IDF.  That led to a very spirited conversation.
We left their to head to the Abu Sarah’s house where we were welcomed and well fed with traditional Palestinian food.  After supper we got to listen and dance to a band made up of Jewish and Muslim members.  We heard both traditional Arab music as well as Jewish music.

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On Monday it started off cloudy and overcast and eventually became chilly and rainy.  We traveled to Ramallah where we saw the wall that was built around the city provide security according to the Israeli understanding.  There we left the bus to walk through the area which Palestinians have to go through each day if they need to leave Ramallah for work or other activities.  They can only leave if they have a permit and even then they may not be able to leave depending on the security.  They are herded like cattle through a series of gates to a waiting room which is just a large room with a dirt floor.  The land right past the checkpoint is held by Israel but because it is illegal for Israelis to enter into it is not cared for.

In Ramallah we met with Sam Bahour founder of Palestinian telecom and enthusiastic builder of economic development.  He spoke of the challenges that Palestinians face each day and shared his journey of becoming more active in Palestian justice issues.  He is a Palestinian American.
We saw Arafat’s tomb and were reminded that the hope is that one day he will be buried in Israel.  There appears to be a lot of development going on in Ramallah.  This is a city that is under the control of Palestinians,
We had a lovely lunch and discussion with Jean from the Quaker Friends School in Ramallah.  They are doing important work.
Afterward we traveled to the Church of All Nations before having the rest of the day to ourselves.
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On Sunday we began the day by entering Dung Gate and looking down on the Western Wall as we sent through security to visit the Dome of the Rock and Al Asqa Mosque.  There is only one entrance for non-Muslims.  We met our one guide inside since as a Muslim, he couldn’t come through the entrance we did.  As we waited for entrance Morgie shared Jewish understanding and the various Temple periods and the history of wars.
Once we entered the grounds of the Temple Mount we learned the stories of how this site is important to Islam as one of the three most holy sites-the other two are Medina and Mecca.  The Dome of the Rock is built on the former site of the Temple Mount and is important because it is believed it was from here that Muhammed ascended to Heaven.  The tile work is beautiful and the top tiles have words from the Koran written on them.  Al Aqsa Mosque stands opposite to the Dome of the Rock.  From the grounds you can see the Mount of Olives.  This area between the two is. Mount Moriah.  Because of previous issues and tensions Orthodox Jews are often escorted by the police and security-because they try to get to the Dome to pray.  We saw 2 Israeli men being escorted by 5 security while we were there.
We then entered into the Muslim quarter to see sites along the Via Dolorosa where there has been some which brought us to the Western Wall where we went through security again We had gone through on our way to the Dome of the Rock.  A young boy was celebrating his bar mitzvah but girls cannot celebrate their bat mitzvah’s there.  The Orthodox Jewish community is in charge of this site which is considered a synagogue.

 Orthodox Jews are the ones mainly in power in the government currently as well.  The
re is a stark difference that we noticed as we left there and entered the Jewish quarter.  Here there are new buildings.
At one point along the way we walked on the Roman road which had been dug up and fixed in a few spots to allow people to walk along it.  We finished up this section of the day with the last steps of the Via Dolorosa a at the Church of the Holy or as some Palestinian Christians prefer to call it
the Church of the Resurrection.  We saw a typical Jewish burial cave from the time of Jesus and the one that many believe Jesus was buried in.  We also saw the spot where he possibly rose from the dead.  In those days this location would have been outside the city walls.

Late afternoon we went to Sabeel and heard Omar Harami speak of his experiences as a Palestinian Christian and about the organization of Sabeel and it’s purpose.  Palestinian Christian’s are a minority of a minority.  He shared lot’s of history with us and talked about the principles by which Sabeel focuses on.  These are inclusivity, justice and non-violence.  He challenged us to not remain silent and to keep our eyes on the little baby of Bethlehem.  He says it is a myth that people is impossible.
Even later after supper we met with Mustafa Abu Sway who spoke again about history and about he Balfour Declaration and that he fears that all the hard work that has been done over the discussion about the future of Palestine and Palestinians may have been hurt badly but he recent pronouncement of the US and yet even so he remains hopeful.